Autism Family Camp 2023

Another wonderful joint Autism Family Camp done and dusted … but the magic still lingers.

In partnering with Beyond the Book Therapy Services and Different Journeys, Interchange Outer East had the pleasure of running another Family Camp for the families of autistic children and teens in Phillip Island this July.

Campers enjoyed the usual big camp activities such as the giant swing and flying fox. However, the group was also treated with talented guests such as Embrace this Space Art therapy, Luxy Sparks Welding and the fantastic tech from GameAware which added to the mix of activities for those looking for fun with less adrenalin.

With a multitude of ages including approximately 25 x 5-10yr olds, 14 x 11-14yr olds and around 17 x 15-18+yr olds, along with a big bunch of amazing parents shepherding their loved ones in on the Friday night … the fun began. Well, to be honest Friday night is far more about falling in the door, being shown to your room and working out the lay of the land, so to speak. Some parents looked stressed after working hard to wrangle everyone and everything together in order to attend, some children rolling their eyes with no plans of buying into the idea of shared fun, some feeling anxious about what was to come. Some however, have attended before and seem relaxed and enthusiastic to be in attendance again.

Walking around, talking to fathers telling me that they’ve not experienced anything like this, to being able to talk to other dads in his position. He said he’d never felt like it was ok for his son to be himself. His wife, tears streaming down her face, thanked me for the experience and I assure her I am simply lucky to be involved. The sort of stuff being described and appreciated by this family (and many others) has nothing to do with me or even a particular amount of skill shown by the organisations involved. The true magic is in simply offering a space where like minded people can come together and feel safe being themselves.

I walk around chatting to teens, clearly having a ball. They’re chatting with their parents and other children. They’re actively involved in everything from basketball games to Dungeons n Dragons. They’re side-by-side with little ones who are at times looking up at them with admiration. The teens tell them to quiet down. Some are unknowingly mentors in this moment. A mum tells me they didn’t think they’d leave their rooms this weekend, worried their teenagers wouldn’t enjoy this experience after a really rough time the night before. Her voice cracks as she then tells me she’s seen her teenager relax a little, smile a little and how much that it has meant to her as a mum. She apologises and wipes her tears. There’s no need to apologise; we all understand here. She tells me she was told about the camp and it just can’t be explained until you’re here yourself. Her teen bounds up beside her, takes a seat and starts colouring with us. I can’t hear what she’s saying anymore, I’m lost watching the relaxed body language and her mum’s arm around her. Another teen won the Super Smash Brothers tournament last night. I hear he almost smiled.

Little ones are building box forts, a seven year old is showing another how to weld. He is also a mentor for a moment. Numbers exchanged for future play dates and catch ups. “I made a friend!” a four-year old exclaims. Knowledge is being exchanged between parents and services working towards the same goal. For families to feel safe and included in everyday life.

During the infamous night walk a beautiful young man intent on jumping from dark bushes and scaring those around him. The shrieks then cackles of laughter. A mum offering to piggy back another mama’s child as she struggles to carry both little ones that have decided they’ll simply, “die if I walk another step”. It’s the most beautiful sort of messy I’ve ever seen.

It’s watching people let their hair down and be their authentic selves. It’s priceless.

Autism Family Camp is like a really great bonfire with good company; the smoke seeps into your pours and stays with you longer than the time you were actually gathered around it.

– Michaela Alcorn, Staff Member and Autism Family Camp parent